Associate Professor of English Crystal McMorris interviewed DCFA President Chris Curtis on the formation of the Delta College Faculty Union:
When did the faculty of Delta College organize?
The Delta College Faculty Association began formally organizing in the fall of 2018. On August 20, 2018, representatives of the organizing team, along with Saun Strobel of the MEA, officially notified Delta College President Jean Goodnow that we filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) to collect signatures for an election on whether Delta College faculty wanted union representation through the Michigan Education Association. We collected enough signatures to require a vote in eight days. Over the break between semesters, during the holiday season in December and January, the Delta College faculty voted overwhelmingly to unionize. 85% of those casting ballots in the MERC election supported unionization, and this represented 77% of the full-time faculty at Delta.
Why was this move necessary?
There are several reasons why the Delta College faculty wanted to unionize, and I won’t claim to know all the reasons. Interestingly, it was not because of financial issues; at the time we were collecting signatures, faculty at Delta had just begun the first year of a three-year contract, a contract which was viewed as a very good contract by most faculty members.
In large part this was a result of a loss of faculty voice in College governance processes. In the academic year prior to the unionization vote, College administration unilaterally eliminated the faculty Division Chair position, often called a ‘Department Chair’ at other colleges and universities, despite an exceedingly lopsided vote by the Delta College Senate (also comprised of support staff and administrative/professional staff members) against this administrative recommendation. The Division Chair was a position of some importance in both College governance structures, and in the minds of most faculty members at Delta. Individuals were elected by faculty members of the academic division they represented, and the Division Chairs served as primary liaisons to and from College administration. Division Chairs oversaw the operations of five divisions at Delta, and maintained a strong faculty voice in matters such as curriculum, promotion and tenure, budgeting, and strategic planning at Delta. Now the five academic divisions at Delta are led by an Associate Dean, selected by College administration rather than faculty.
There are other examples of the loss of faculty voice and representation at Delta, but this marked a tipping point in the minds of many faculty members.
How many members are there?
As of October, 2019, the Delta College Faculty Association has approximately 145 full-time faculty members, out of approximately 175 total full-time faculty, or just under 83% of all full-time faculty at Delta.
Are faculty at other community colleges in Michigan part of labor unions?
Yes. In fact, Delta College was the last community college in Michigan to unionize.
Why was the faculty of Delta College the last to organize?
Any answer will be somewhat simplified, but I think most faculty would agree that until the last several years, Delta College was proud of our unique shared governance system. Both faculty and staff at Delta embraced a shared decision making process, embodied in our Delta College Senate, that allowed for significant faculty voice and input in the major decisions of college governance and operations. When the College administration chose to unilaterally disregard a very strong Senate vote opposing a proposed reorganization of the faculty leadership role at Delta (the Division Chair position), many faculty members recognized that any work rule was potentially vulnerable to similar unilateral decision making.
What does the faculty hope to gain by unionizing?
Faculty members at Delta College want to be a part of the governance process at Delta. We want our voice heard in strategic planning decisions, in College policy discussions, in the day-to-day activities of learning that happen at Delta, not after a decision is made. We want a role in shaping the direction of Delta College, not just to be informed of the decision as, or after, it is implemented.
Delta College faculty are proud of the 50+ year heritage of shared governance at Delta, and we want that to continue. This legacy drew many of us to the College, or convinced others to stay and make a career at Delta and in our Great Lakes Bay Community. Delta College is a fantastic community college; faculty and staff worked together to create it. We can continue to do so.